By Dr. Jessica Schorr-Saxe of Health Care Justice of North Carolina for Rep. Alma Adams. Image from the Charlotte Observer.

Now is the time for Medicare for all Single-payer program saves money

May 19, 2017
In The News

Have you—or anyone you know—skipped needed health care because of cost? Since this is true of one in three Americans, you probably answered yes. Do you think this is unfair?

When I worked as a family doctor at Carolinas Medical Center-Biddle Point, I saw people every day who didn’t get needed health care because they couldn’t pay. I don’t think it’s fair. There is another kind of health care system which would eliminate this unfairness.

Amid the talk of health care change—repeal the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare or replace it or improve it—more and more voices are speaking out for improving and expanding Medicare for all. This is also known as a single-payer system.

Why? Health in this country is poor, with lower life expectancies, worse infant mortality (deaths of babies before the age of one), and poorer health than other developed countries. These statistics are much worse for African-Americans than for the general population. And we spend more money than other countries—about twice as much per person as the average developed country. All of those countries provide health care for all, while we do not.

They do it by providing universal access to health care, through some form of a single-payer system. Single-payer health care refers to a financing mechanism by which one payer (either the government or an agency established by the government) pays the bills. Our current complicated system includes payments by Medicare, Medicaid, numerous insurance companies (with thousands of different plans), all of which have different rules. This unwieldy bureaucracy creates headaches—and expense—for patients, hospitals, and doctors’ offices.

We, too, could have a single-payer system if Congress passed HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, It currently has 108 co-sponsors, more than ever since it was first introduced in 2003. More than half of the Democrats in Congress, including all three from North Carolina, are co-sponsors. Rep. Alma Adams of the 12th District was the first representative from N.C. to sign on.

HR 676 would eliminate all co-pays and deductibles—so we would no longer have one-third of our country who could not afford needed care.

How would we afford to cover everyone? An article in the Annals of Internal Medicine in February noted that we would save over $600 billion. This would come from decreasing costs of administration as well as lower prescription drug costs. We would fund this program through small progressive increases in taxes.

Don’t like taxes? You are likely to find that you pay much less in taxes than you’re currently paying for health care. And the billions of dollars in savings would allow us to cover everyone.

Think of what health care coverage for all would mean. Everyone would be able to get the care they need and no longer have to make choices between seeing a doctor and paying their other bills. This would allow us to improve the health of our country. Further, we could reduce racial disparities.

Do you know anyone who suffers from lack of needed health care, anxiety over their medical bills, or getting inequitable care because of their financial limitations? Then you, too, should support improving Medicare and expanding it to all.

Jessica Schorr Saxe is chair of Health Care JusticeNC.

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